I’m not a real cowboy, but I still want to be one when I grow up. In the meantime, I do my best to live the cowboy way on my little ranch in the high Sonoran Desert. I don’t think you have to be a real cowboy to live by the code of ethics often identified with cowboys, such as your word being your bond. Cowboys work hard and take pride in their work. When a cowboy makes a promise, he keeps it. When he says he will do something, he does it. As cynical as this makes me sound, these are traits that are mostly lost in today’s fast-talking, big-money high-tech industry.
On the other hand, Waddie Mitchell is the real deal. His given name is Bruce Douglas Mitchell, but he earned the nickname Waddie, which is a synonym for “cowboy,” as a young man working as wrangler in Nevada and the southwest. After dropping out of high school to buckaroo, Waddie ended up in the Army, but he still found a way to continue to cowboy. During his Army service he broke and trained horses for the U.S. Cavalry. After leaving the Army, Waddie returned to his native Nevada and worked as the foreman of a large, remote cattle ranch.
As a young man, Waddie spent most of his time with real cowboys and, at night, he listened to their stories and memorized many of their poems. As he grew up, Waddie developed his own style of writing and reciting cowboy poetry, which gained national attention as a result of an early 1980s PBS documentary about the last real cowboys in America. The documentary featured some of Waddie’s poetry which, in turn, caught the attention of Johnny Carson, who invited Waddie to appear on “The Tonight Show.”
Since that time, Waddie has appeared on many other television and radio shows, has performed at Carnegie Hall and has recorded seven CDs of his poetry. One of Waddie’s bestloved poems is one titled, “That ‘No Quit’ Attitude.” This particular poem pays homage to not only the tough and hardy cowboy way of life, but to those whose character pushes them to always do their best.
In the contact center industry, Art Rosenberg was the real deal. He embodied that “no quit” attitude in his work as a consultant and analyst, and was honest and honorable in his pursuit of doing the best job that he could. Art passed away this past April after a long career in the communications industry. In my opinion, Art embodied the cowboy way, putting heart into an often heartless industry.
If I had ever told Art that I thought he was a cowboy, he probably would have had a good laugh. Art lived with his wife near the beach in Southern California, not on a remote ranch or on any kind of ranch at all. No one can deny, however, that he was a true pioneer.
Art liked to talk about his days at Delphi Communications where he was hands-on in the development of early voice messaging solutions for a general population that had an aversion to “talking to machines.” Art was responsible for making automated answering services acceptable to a market still driven by rotary dial telephones. Art was a visionary who had the rare ability to translate his ideas into working solutions that were not only functional, but appealing.
Working at Delphi also gave Art the opportunity to work on solutions for the growing call center industry, which gave him the credentials he needed to transition to a career in call center consulting and education in the early 1980s. It was also at about this time that Art began to gain a reputation as a prolific writer and analyst, contributing a steady stream of articles and columns in a number of industry publications including Voice Processing, the first magazine I ever wrote for.
I joined Dataquest as an analyst in 1989, well after Art had established himself as an industry expert. I don’t remember the first time I met Art, he was just always there. I do remember, though, how humble Art always was. He could talk technical and industry knowledge circles around a lot of us in the industry at that time, especially around some of the blowhards publishing magazines and working for CTI startups, but that wasn’t Art’s style. Like any good cowboy, Art let his actions do his talking for him.
Most people don’t remember this, but Art co-authored a pair of books with industry futurist Paul Anderson back in the late 1990s. The first was called The Executive’s Guide to Customer Relationship Management: Retention Loyalty Profit. I remember being at one of the call center trade shows in early 1999. Nortel had bought a couple of cases of this book and had hired Paul Anderson to sit in a hospitality room and sign copies for Nortel customers. One of Nortel’s marketing guys was standing in the Nortel booth like a carnival barker yelling, “Meet the author! Executive Guide to CRM! Meet the author!” In typical Art style, I can’t recall him ever complaining about this snub.
The second book Art co-authored in 1999 was called The Digital Call Center. What? We’re just talking about digital customer service now. Art was writing about it 17 years ago.
Art also coined an industry term that all of us use today: Unified Communications (UC). Not surprisingly, Art established himself as one of the first UC experts in the industry, joining the staff of writers at ucstrategies.com when it was founded a decade ago.
I have many memories of Art but one of my favorites was from 2014, when we were both at a large customer conference in Indianapolis. I spotted Art walking ahead of me through the hall and toward the hotel at the end of the day. I caught up to him and after a bit of small talk I said, “Hey Art, how come you’re so much older than me but you have fewer gray hairs than I do?” He looked me straight in the eye and said, “I dye it.” Then after a pause he broke out laughing like he’d just told the funniest joke in the world.
Art was a straight shooter. He was smart, clever, humble and talented. He worked hard right up to the end, embodying that no-quit attitude. Beyond that, Art embodied cowboy ethics. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, to me, Art will always be a bueno vaquero. The customer service industry owes a big debt to Art and he will be missed.
Vaya con Dios, amigo
Paul Stockford is Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers & customer service.
– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline, http://www.contactcenterpipeline.com